The White House Conference on Aging will be held on July 13, 2015, during a momentous year in which we mark the 80th anniversary of Social Security as well as the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act. The conference provides an opportunity to discuss these critical programs and find ways to strengthen them to continue to serve older Americans in the next decade.
These programs not only serve older Americans, but they also serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). At The Arc, we are committed to advocating for people with I/DD and their families. This means ensuring that individuals with I/DD have services in place throughout their lifespan and that aging caregivers of people with I/DD have the support they need.
We spoke to advocates and caregivers to ask them what issues need to be addressed at the White House Conference on Aging. Here are their questions:
Carla Behnfeldt: I am 55 years old and live in Pennsylvania. My parents, who are in their 80s, and my 57 year old brother who has intellectual and developmental disabilities, all reside in upstate New York. My parents worked hard to find a good group home for him near their home and to get him Medicaid long term services and supports. Due to their age, my parents are in need of more and more support from me, and I would like for us all to live close together. I looked into having my brother move to Pennsylvania. I was shocked to learn that he might have to wait years to receive Medicaid services in Pennsylvania. And, there is no guarantee that Pennsylvania would provide him the services that New York does. My parents won’t move if my brother can’t move. The fact that my brother’s services can’t be transferred between states makes it very difficult for me to become my brother’s primary supporter and to provide my parents with the care they deserve as they age. What are your proposals to make Medicaid benefits portable between states?
Margaret-Lee Thompson: I am 70 years old. For 21 years, I worked as a parent coordinator at The Arc of King County in Washington State. Our son Dan, who had Down syndrome, died when he was 36. Many of the parents I worked with are in their 70s, and their children with intellectual and developmental disabilities are still living at home with them. Their sons and daughters are middle-aged now, and when the family tries to get the government support that would enable the son or daughter to move into a new living arrangement, the families are told that they need to go on a waiting list. These lists are often a decade or more long. The Community First Choice Option created by the Affordable Care Act, with its additional federal matching funds in 2014-15 will allow our state to be able to have the funding to move 1000 individuals onto our Basic Plus Medicaid Waiver. But there are still 10,000 individuals and families in our state who have NO PAID SERVICES. The senior families have waited the longest. Many have simply given up asking for help. This is just wrong. It is not uncommon for the individual to lose their last parent, be moved from their home and be moved in with people they have never met – all on the same day. The parents should be able to support their sons and daughters while they transition to a new home. What are you doing to change things so these parents can live out their senior years with a sense of peace and comfort in the knowledge that their sons and daughters will live a good life after they are gone?
Pia Muro: I am 70 years old and live in Tustin, California. My younger daughter, Crystal, is 29 and has Down syndrome. She works at a senior center and lives at home with me. We’ve started the planning process as a family to make sure she continues to live a happy and independent life when I’m no longer able to provide support.
English is my second language and the planning process can be difficult to understand. What is being done to make sure that people from different backgrounds can get support from people who speak our language and understand where we are coming from?
Carrie Hobbs Guiden, Executive Director, The Arc of Tennessee: There are nearly a million families in the United States in which adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are living at home with an aging caregiver. Most do not have a plan in place for what is going to happen when these caregivers are no longer able to provide support. There are many barriers to planning – including fear – but it is important that families make a plan for the future. They should gather information about the family’s history and wishes, and they should explore housing, employment and daily activities, decision making supports, and social connections. What are your proposals to help these families to plan for the long term needs of their adult children with disabilities?
The Arc’s Center for Future Planning aims to support and encourage adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families to plan for the future. The Center provides reliable information and practical assistance to individuals with I/DD, their family members and friends, professionals who support them and other members of the community on areas such as person-centered planning, decision-making, housing options, and financial planning. Visit the Center’s website at futureplanning.thearc.org for more information.